(Topic ID: 269538)

Attention! Don't get scammed!

By robin

1 year ago

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  • 254 posts
  • 126 Pinsiders participating
  • Latest reply 44 days ago by ForceFlow
  • Topic is favorited by 25 Pinsiders
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    Topic index (key posts)

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    Post #111 Moderator comment on "scammy sites" axmpinballmachines Posted by ForceFlow (11 months ago)

    Post #127 New Site Feature - Address Verification Posted by robin (9 months ago)

    Post #201 Guide on identifying scam game seller websites Posted by ForceFlow (4 months ago)

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    #1 1 year ago

    Dear Pinside.

    I'm posting this topic as I've been seeing an increasing amount of people getting scammed through marketplace ads in the past few weeks. I have been investigating this quite extensively and wanted to share with you what I found out, and at the same time warn you all to be careful sending money to strangers.

    Note: in this topic, I'm specifically talking about online scams. Where you pay for a game and then nothing is shipped.

    What we found so far

    This appears to be one scammer, male. But more people could be involved.

    Scammer has been around for a long time and not just operating on Pinside. Also via Mr. Pinball (confirmed) and probably Craigslist and Facebook too.

    Scammer will mostly target "wanted" ads, as they know that posting an ad themselves will quickly get them noticed by our systems and by many alert Pinsiders, who will contact me or moderators about a suspicious ad (thanks to all who do!)

    Scammer likes to target newbies. There seems to be a pattern where all the folks who got scammed are all pretty new to Pinside. This makes sense.

    Scammer will quickly try to move communication off of Pinside. So they will start out via PM, then ask you for an e-mail address to post photos to. Then communication will continue via e-mail and, without going into details too much, this hurts our abilities to detect said scammers.

    Scammer will even ask for your phone number to talk about a game. He'll take his time. He knows his stuff. Knows the available mods. Knows the ins and outs. This guy is probably a pinball enthusiast in some form, or he has been absorbing Pinside knowledge for years. He likely uses burner phones.

    He will arrange for his game to picked up via a reputable shipping company. E.g. via Michelle @ STI. He will give them a fake pickup address. All to win your trust: "look, here's the shipping arrangements I made". This goes as far as to let STI come to the house for pickup, where they will find folks who "know nothing about any pinball machine".

    Scammer will try to get you to pay via wire or (preferably) via Paypal Friends and Family. This is a huge red flag as both methods will remove any protection you have. Some people were offered to pay in several instalments. I suspect not to raise any flags with Paypal?

    Scammer may use Pinside accounts that have been registered, then left dormant for some time. So it won't always be a <10 day newbie account.

    Scammer has no problem paying $5 to get verified as a real user. They use a range of (hacked?) verified Paypal accounts.

    Scammer will participate on Pinside. He will post in many topics. Often simple one-liners. But he's actively trying to look real.

    How not to get scammed

    The best way to avoid getting scammed is to buy in person, cash on the glass. However, we recently had a report of someone being robbed at gunpoint, when picking up a bunch of machines. That was the first time I ever heard of something like that happening, but it's something to keep in mind.

    But in this topic, I'm specifically talking about online scams. Where you pay for a game and then nothing is shipped.

    It is always advisable to look at someone's feedback/rating. Go to a Pinsiders profile page and click the "feedback" tab. Does the user have any feedback from previous sales? Was this feedback placed by reputable Pinsiders? You can quickly find the trustworthy sellers on Pinside via this system.

    One of our members, Vid1900, wrote a great guide on how not to get ripped off buying/selling pinball machines. Both in-person as well as shipped sales.

    Here is a link with all of his advice, brought together in one read:

    There is a lot of information in there, please read what applies to your case. Or better, read it all.

    TL;DR The best way of purchasing a pinball machine online is by using a proper escrow service, e.g. Escrow.com

    Who is this guy

    A lot of the information above applies to generally all scammers. But obviously a scammer from Nigeria may not get on the phone so easily to talk to you. And probably not be as knowledgeable. Certainly not all scammers build active Pinside accounts (i.e. actively participating on the site to build credibility).

    The recent scammer has been using Pinside to scam people for quite some time. I've tracked several dozen accounts that all link back to this same scammer. He scammed tens of thousands of dollars over the years.

    This particular scammer will actively participate on Pinside. Wanna see how? Here's one of his accounts forum posting history: https://pinside.com/pinball/community/pinsiders/pham78/forum

    What baffles me is that he was even trying to buy parts for a Black Rose pinball machine and also an old Bally drop target assembly. This suggests that this guy is a pinball collector himself. Or was he just trying to fool Pinside staff into thinking "surely, someone actively purchasing pinball parts cannot be a scammer?"

    Heck, this is a long shot, but maybe someone actually knows this guy? I have also found a link between this scammer and a site for airguns (airguns.net) as well as a site for archery (bowsite.com). If this sounds like anyone you may know, get in touch! The sooner we identify this guy, the better.

    I've been told by one of the scammed people that the FBI is now involved in this matter, so hopefully this pinball scammer will soon be in jail.

    Steps Pinside is taking

    The battle with scammers is ongoing. It has been for many years. I actively try to implement measures, they will find ways around it. It's always a tradeoff because we don't want to scare off legitimate pinball newbies into the hobby (and there are many, Pinside signs up around 30-40 new members per day).

    I hardly ever publish these changes/countermeasures (for obvious reasons).

    The scams often seem to come in waves. It will be quiet for a while, then the scammer(s) will return with new ways and methods. In the past I have deactivated marketplace ads placing for <1yr accounts, I have imposed limits on PM sending and more. But obviously, these measures also hurt legitimate pinheads.

    I'm going to place prominent links to this topic on various sections of the site.

    I have also been sparring ideas with some people, trying to come up with ideas how we could make online pinball trading safer. There are some great plans already. PM me, if you have ideas about this.

    Note: Feel free to chime in here, but please note that this topic will get linked to from our "new user warning" message. So please keep it on topic and free of useless remarks. Being a high profile and frontpage stickied topic, I have put this in post approval mode.

    #28 1 year ago

    Wow, some great ideas, thanks all!

    Building on these ideas, one of the easiest things to implement would be address verification. It would be another level of verification (e.g. a blue checkmark) where we ensure someones address. What we have now, the black V icon, would remain the basic verification (stops most Nigerian scammers because they don't want to shell out $5 bucks to get verified).

    So how would mail address verification work? It would involve Pinside sending a postcard (automated via one of the online sending APIs) containing a code. You log in to Pinside and enter that code. Boom! Address verified.

    Then I thought, postcards are fairly easy to steal, even if that's a federal offense (I mean, so is scamming people out of thousands of dollars, right?). I could also send out a Pinside mug. It's too big for your letterbox and you need to open the door to accept it. I would enter the code on the packing slip. Or print it on the mug, lol.

    I estimate this could be done for around $10 (I would need to check, but it looks to be doable, at least for US adresses).

    Still not 100%, but it's pretty darn close. Right? Or am I missing something obvious?

    2 weeks later
    #66 1 year ago
    Quoted from cmack750:

    I think the postcard idea is a great one and people serious about buying/selling shouldn't have too much trouble coughing up a couple bucks for a one time verification like that. Just be thoughtful about how to best allow address changes after someone has already verified in that way...
    Like was mentioned before, the chance of a scammer using a fake address AND watching that address for incoming mail AND stealing said mail before the owner gets it or sees them doing so is probably REALLY low. Only way I could see someone scamming the system on that is through a change of address so that the mail is forwarded to their actual address instead of the fake one. But there are mail/postage types that will not be allowed to be forwarded so maybe something to consider as well.
    More work for you, Robin, but maybe developing something like a "Trust Score/Meter" which aggregates the various things that may help indicate that a buyer/seller is likely to be trustworthy into a single viewable bar or number would be helpful and tie that info into wanted/for sale ads Like looking at a credit score meter.... Not a foolproof indicator hat someone won't stop paying bills, but a useful tool for determining the risk of them doing so. Similar to an achievement score, but for factors that you would consider important in establishing actual identity characteristics. Age of account, sold/paid fees via pinside, participation, feedbac from reputable members, address verification, etc. Not foolproof but, with some guidance, could be a useful tool in helping people understand whether they should even consider a long distance transaction when cash on the glass can't be done. Doesn't preclude people from using an escrow service or doing their own research, but could at least help people quickly shut down a potential sale gone wrong before it even gets started if the initial risk looks high.

    Thanks for the GREAT feedback/ideas. Very helpful. This is definitely the direction I'm hoping to take this. I just started testing the mail verification (Pinside sends you a letter containing a code). A letter is even safer because it can not be read without opening. The plan is to integrate this mechanism as a part of the Pinside+ subscriptions I'm working (or optionally offer it for a small onetime fee, for those who do not wish to subscribe).

    The test letter just arrived...

    Besides address verification and the ideas mentioned in this thread, I'm also looking into the possibilities of a Pinside escrow service, where Pinside would hold funds until an actual game arrives. A panel of volunteer Pinsiders could anonymously judge any disputes.

    The possibilities are plentiful, the ultimate goal is to make Pi nside the safest place for buying and selling (shipped) pinball machines!

    Meanwhile, I'm doing final testing on some other exciting new Pinside features - that's coming very soon too!

    Busy times at PinsideHQ

    6 months later
    #127 9 months ago

    Today, I have launched the new address verification feature, which I wrote about earlier! This feature allows you to get an "Address Verified" sticker on your account, which shows Pinsiders that you are indeed located where you claim to be. Like all other things online, it's not 100% watertight, but together with the other tricks in our anti-scammer bag, it's another welcome addition.

    Let me briefly explain how it works!

    First, go to https://pinside.com/pinball/my-pinside/verification and at the bottom of the page you will find the option for address verification.

    Simply fill out your address in the the lookup bar:

    pasted_image (resized).png

    Select the proper suggestion out of the list and hit enter. An address form will be populated:

    pasted_image (resized).png

    Add your name and correct anything that might be wrong, now hit "preview". You will see a preview of the address envelope:

    pasted_image (resized).png

    If all is correct, click the "yes" button. A verification letter with a unique code will now be printed and sent to the specified address:

    pasted_image (resized).png

    Once you receive the letter, enter the code on the verification page (or scan the QR code) and your account will be Address Verified.

    Keep in mind, your full verified address will never be displayed on Pinside without your explicit consent. I am planning a feature where people can request your verified address in a PM thread, via a simple button. Once you approve the request, also via one button click, the system will share the address in that PM thread.

    Important: Address Verification is completely optional! It's another layer of trust that will help defend Pinsiders against scammers. We already had our basic verification system (through a >$5 donation or via a Pinside reference), which reduced the number of scammers on Pinside substantially. The address verification will further help us keep Pinside scammer free.

    Verification is free for Pinside+ users. Everyone else pays a small fee for postage and handling.

    #134 9 months ago
    Quoted from wtatumjr:

    I moved to Corolla NC but my verified address shows my old location. How can I change?

    Ah, sorry I overlooked that.

    For all pre-approved folks with multiple addresses in the database, I have switched your verification address to the latest known address. Hope that works out for most of you.

    I will also work on making this selectable via a dropdown of earlier used addresses, stay tuned for that!

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